Saturday, December 5, 2009

Gut reactions

Over the moon, to use the oldest British football cliche in the book. England v USA was the one I wanted above all. We are "natural rivals" as Bob Bradley says, if not yet big ones: Americans want to beat England more than vice versa. That the clash comes first means there won't be quite as much tension as in a decider, so a defeat allows time for wounds to be licked. I'd rather a win either way to set the group alight.

The UK press has unanimously called the draw a victory for Fabio Capello, with Three Lions qualification a shoe-in. E(ngland) A(lgeria) S(lovenia) Y(anks) bleated The Sun's front page this morning for instance, hailing "The best English group since the Beatles"; maybe so. Wonder if they've heard of Belo Horizonte. Yes England are stronger, but the US defeat of Spain should be ringing alarm bells at the FA. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan can strike elusively at pace, Michael Bradley can trouble the goal from distance, Carlos Bocanegra from up close...we'll be chewing this one over for a while.

The US would come away with a tie happier than England, though it does not seem rash to start thinking about who both will be playing in the Round of 16.
There are two other teams with a say in Group C, world-ranked 28th and 33rd respectively. I watched Slovenia lose to England earlier this year at Wembley and they were a slick but lightweight outfit, full of pretty passing but easilly outmuscled. Algeria are more of an unknown quantity but appear the weakest of the African qualifiers. "I don't know, I have to study them" was Capello's response to them coming out the hat.

*Away from the draw in Cape Town the FA and USSoccer both came away smarting after their presentations for the 2018 World Cup failed to catch fire. Luis Figo, perhaps in revenge for the 3-2 US win in Suwon in 2002, entered the hall with Fernando Hierro during the American promotional video and a gaggle of journalists got up to follow him, ignoring the US film. "It was totally ruined," said Don Garber. Ouch!

England's video went down badly too. The FA, uniquely, employed animation, which was described in The Independent as "a low-budget South Park" and by the Daily Telegraph as "among the least professional of the 10 bidders, a cut-price animated show."

Only the presence of the magnet that is David Beckham saved the FA's promo from sudden death, apparently. I've always thought the US' best bet is 2022, so hopefully lessons will be learned this time, such as locking the door when the movie starts.

-Sean O'Conor

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